CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- It's all about the brand these days.Nike has the swoosh. Frosted Flakes has Tony the Tiger. Progressive has Flo.Same with West Virginia University's football team. It has Dana Holgorsen and the "Air Raid" offense. ("I don't know if you've noticed," Holgorsen said last week, "but we've run the same offense for a while.")There might, however, be a twist to next season's Mountaineer team. Absorb this comment from WVU offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson:
"To be honest, when you break in a new quarterback, you're going to lean on the run game. It's just the way it is. It's a good time to be a running back at West Virginia."A few seconds later, he added that the team "needs an identity at running back."It needs a brand name at the position. Last season it briefly had a couple in Shawne Alston and then, surprisingly, Tavon Austin.Those two, however, are gone from the roster. Next season we'll see if Andrew Buie, who will be a junior, can carry the ball - and torch. "In the offseason," Dawson said, "he was an unbelievable leader. Positive. He's our veteran guy. Who woulda guessed?"Dustin Garrison, also a junior, has gained weight and appears more comfortable running on his repaired knee. Redshirt sophomore Cody Clay, the pride of George Washington High, will be lining up at fullback and receiver.Then there's the wild card, Dreamius Smith, the 5-foot-10, 215-pound junior college transfer.An identity at running back will be sought. It's one of many, many positions to watch before the Mountaineers host William & Mary on Aug. 31.But might Holgorsen's "Raid" turn from the air to the ground? Really?In a word, no. Whether the starting quarterback is Paul Millard or Ford Childress, Holgorsen's offense will fill the air with passes. The coach even hedged when asked whether there would be more of an emphasis on the run game."That's always been a key component," he said. "In my two years at Houston we had a 1,000-yard rusher. At Oklahoma State, we almost had a 2,000-yard rusher."The most important point - offensively speaking anyway - is Holgorsen's attacks have consistently clicked. The lowest total offense he's produced dating back to 2005 has been WVU's 2011 final national ranking of No. 15. Before that, it was No. 6 at Texas Tech in 2006.
Last season, WVU's offense finished No. 10, averaging 502 yards.Yes, Holgorsen's defense finished No. 108 and his pass defense finished No. 118 of 120 NCAA Division I teams.But the subject here is the offense and, specifically, the rushing attack.In his two years at Houston, Holgorsen did not have two 1,000-yard rushers. In 2008, Bryce Beall did run for 1,247 yards with 13 touchdowns. In 2009, Charles Sims led the team with 698 rushing yards, but added 759 yards receiving. Also, Beall had 670 yards rushing. So give the coach a mulligan for lumping it all together.In 2010, Kendall Hunter rushed for 1,548 yards and 16 touchdowns at Oklahoma State before moving to the roster of the San Francisco 49ers for the last three years.Buie was WVU's rushing leader last season with 851 net yards. (Austin, in case you're wondering, had 643.) Garrison led the team in 2011 with 742 yards.
If you want to crunch numbers, the leading rusher for Holgorsen offenses since 2005 (when Taurean Henderson had 872 for Texas Tech) averages 915.4 yards.That has fluctuated from Hunter's 1,548 yards to the 439 put up by Shannon Woods for Tech in 2007.More fun facts while you crumple up your NCAA brackets?Since 2005, Holgorsen's offense have rolled up 52,783 total yards. That's an average of 6,597.9 per season. (WVU had 6,104 in 2012.)Of the 52,783 offensive yards, 13,058 have been recorded via the run. So, on average, Holgorsen teams run the ball for 24.7 percent of their offense.What's fascinating is the rise, unsteady though it may be, in that percentage over the years. Apparently we do get more conservative as we age.At Texas Tech, Holgorsen offenses ran the ball as little as 11.4 percent in 2007 to as high as 21 percent in 2005. At Houston, the Cougars ran the ball 28.6 and 23 percent of the time.At Oklahoma State, the percentage went to 33.5 percent. At WVU, it was 26.1 in 2011 and up to 34.2 this past season.So maybe it is a good time to be the Mountaineer running back.At least within the Air Raid offense.Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.